October 2012


Words guaranteed to bring a good (and gory) time.

When Star Wars was released in 1977, it had a lot of things going for it.  One of those things was the casting.  Diane Crittenden, Irene Lamb and Vic Ramos, the casting directors for the film had done their job perfectly.  We had three relative unknowns in the main lead roles.  But to supplement their performances, we had two great British actors.  The first, of course, was Sir Alec Guinness, already an Oscar winner, and, back in the 50’s, star of the Ealing Comedies, one of the best group of films ever created in a single genre by a single studio (see a future post).  But for the villain, they brought in Peter Cushing.  By this time, Guinness had been in 37 films (including two Best Picture winners and two Graham Greene adaptations) and Cushing had appeared in 83 films (including a different Best Picture winner and a different Graham Greene adaptation), but they had never done a film together (and wouldn’t in a sense here, either, because they never appear onscreen together).  Part of this was that while Guinness was rising with David Lean films and starring at Ealing, Cushing was further east, on the other side of Heathrow Airport, starring in another great group of films created in a single genre by a single studio.  He was one of the two key actors in the Hammer Horror films.  And rather appropriately, Christopher Lee, who would be his onscreen enemy in so many of these films, would eventually take over the role of Star Wars villain starting with Attack of the Clones.

There had been great Horror films before.  In fact, none of the films that Hammer would make would rival the best of the films produced by Universal between 1923 and 1935.  But while Universal had a great run of success with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, The Man Who Laughs, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and The Bride of Frankenstein, it trailed off badly after that.  There was also irony going on during that stretch.  While those films combined for one measly Oscar nomination (Bride of Frankenstein – Best Sound), it was Paramount’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that would actually win a major Academy Award (Best Actor for 1932-33 – Frederic March).  There were a couple of other Horror gems during this time (Vampyr, King Kong), but after 1935, it all went south.  I have not seen a single Horror film released between 1935 and 1956 better than a mid *** except The Body Snatcher.  There were just endless sequels, getting worse and worse, as budgets got lower and lower and acting became nonexistent.  They weren’t even good entertainment anymore, they couldn’t frighten and they were just boring.

Then came 1957 and a film called The Curse of Frankenstein. (more…)

The Penguin Great Books cover of Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness

  • Rank:  #8
  • Author:  Joseph Conrad  (1857  –  1924)
  • Published:  1899  (serial),  1902  (book)
  • Publisher:  Blackwood’s Magazine  (serial);  William Blackwood  (book)
  • Pages:  96
  • First Line:  “The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest.”
  • Last Line:  “The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flower sombre under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.”
  • Acclaim:  Modern Library Top 100 English Language Novels of the 20th Century #67
  • ML Version:  included in Great Modern Short Stories (#168); gold hardcover (1993 – published with Youth and Typhoon); 1999 (Modern Library classics)
  • Film:  long planned by Orson Welles; 1979 / 2001 (as Apocalypse Now / Apocalypse Now Redux – ****); 1993 TV film
  • First Read:  Fall 1991 (more…)

Tommy Lee Jones – the beating heart and soul of No Country for Old Men (2007).

The 80th annual Academy Awards, for the film year 2007.  The nominations were announced on 22 January, 2008 and the awards were held on 24 February, 2008.

Best Picture:  No Country for Old Men

  • Atonement
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Michael Clayton
  • Juno

Most Surprising Omission:  The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Best Eligible Film Not Nominated:  Across the Universe

Rank (out of 84) Among Best Picture Years:  #2 (more…)

Come on. You didn’t really think I would put a picture of Javier Bardem with that haircut here, did you?

My Top 20:

  1. No Country for Old Men
  2. Atonement
  3. Across the Universe
  4. There Will Be Blood
  5. Ratatouille
  6. Eastern Promises
  7. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
  8. Michael Clayton
  9. Juno
  10. Away from Her
  11. Sweeney Todd
  12. 3:10 to Yuma
  13. Persepolis
  14. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  15. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
  16. Lust, Caution
  17. I’m Not There
  18. Gone Baby Gone
  19. The Darjeeling Limited
  20. A Mighty Heart

note:  This list stops short.  **** films that are just off the list: Charlie Wilson’s War, Once, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  ***.5 films that follow: Zodiac, In the Valley of Elah, Black Book and Hot Fuzz. (more…)

The Avon / Bard mass market editions of the first several García Márquez books.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”  (One Hundred Years of Solitude)

It was the spring of my junior year of college when I first heard of him.  My friend Jake had been taking more Spanish classes and I asked him why.  He wanted to read Cien años de soledad, the original Spanish language version of One Hundred Years of Solitude.  “It’s my new barometer for people,” he said.  “If they don’t like it, I can’t listen to them anymore.”  As one of my oldest and closest friends, this seemed like a direct challenge.  I needed to find this book and read it and like it.  Preferably, from the tone of his voice, think it brilliant.

I found an old Avon paperback in Chapter II, the same little used bookstore in Forest Grove (now long gone) where, browsing in the fall, I had found Portnoy’s Complaint and Ragtime and embarked on reading odysseys through Philip Roth and E.L. Doctorow.  It took me little more than a day to get it read (why bother reading stuff for school when I can be reading this, I kept thinking).

I called him back the next day.  “It was brilliant,” I told him.  “Especially that last sentence.  That was amazing.”  And so it began, my odyssey into this, the greatest of all the writers from Latin America, one of the few people who was won the Nobel Prize and absolutely deserved it.

(more…)

The 1st Edition of Gabriel García Márquez’s 100 Years of Solitude.

One Hundred Years of Solitude  (Cien años de soledad)

  • Rank:  #9
  • Author:  Gabriel García Márquez  (b. 1927)
  • Published:  1967  /  1970  (tr.)
  • Publisher:  Editorial Sudamericana  /  Harper & Row  (tr.)
  • Pages:  383
  • First Line:  “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
  • Last Line:  “. . . because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”
  • ML Version:  none
  • Film:  none, thankfully
  • First Read:  Spring, 1995

(more…)